Tag Archives: Strasbourg Cathedral

5 April, Palm Sunday

Today we’d put out the flags, as Caernarfon did to welcome us (and thousands more tourists) a few years ago. 2,000 years ago it was palms and cloaks that were actively waved – not just left out in all weathers – as Jesus came to town. But by the following Friday nobody would have wanted the Romans to see the national flags and emblems on their buildings. Jesus had become dangerous to know.

The Plantagenet Kings whose castle commands this view would have looked askance at the scene, and their spies would have filled the castle governor’s ear with more or less factual accounts of the latest prince to arise to rally the Welsh. Pilate would have heard about Jesus before Palm Sunday but the parade of the King of the Jews did not lead to his immediate arrest. Pilate thought he could contain this uprising before it got very far.

By Friday festival fever was worrying a hypersensitive elite who valued the shaky Pax Romana as it applied in Judea, offering them status and privilege and allowing the Temple worship to continue according to the Law. Verses from the Psalms and the Prophets that challenged the idea of sacrifice were dismissed in their turn by the priests of the Temple.

For thou desirest not sacrifice; else would I give it: thou delightest not in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.

Ps 51: 16-17

 

Jesus’s heart was broken, his body too, though not his spirit. His death completed his lifelong passion. It is all of a piece, as the Pieta tells us – the baby we saw Mary cuddling at Christmas is the One she cradles briefly before his burial. But today, knowing he is riding into difficult times, he is the King the crowd were waiting for.

Image from Missionaries of Africa
Strasbourg Cathedral

So let’s put out the flags in our hearts, and wave our palms for our King! And let’s hope we can distribute palms from the backs of our churches should we be banned from gathering to celebrate Holy Week and Easter.

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11 March, Desert XIV: Unplugged Wednesdays.

judas.strasbourg

Fr James Kurzynski of the Vatican Observatory Website recently wrote about his coming sabbatical retreat. Follow the link to read his reflections before he proceeds to the desert of Arizona. Here is part of his article.

I felt a deep peace about what I would call “detachment Wednesdays.” Wednesday will be a day of silence, encouraging us to not speak verbally, unplug from anything that could distract us, and take a day of restful prayer.

Two weeks age, I gave a presentation about my sabbatical to St. Olaf’s youth in our Faith Formation Program. When I got to the part of explaining Wednesday Unplugged, I told them, “Don’t bother trying to get a hold of me on Wednesday, but do know each one of you will be prayed for that day as I prayerfully take St. Olaf Parish with me into the desert.”

Wednesdays and Fridays are traditionally the more concentrated days of the week in Lent;  ‘Spy Wednesday’ in Holy Week seen as the day when Judas went to betray his Lord; Good Friday when Jesus, his Lord and Ours, died for all our sin. All our sin, as the Sculptor of Strasbourg Cathedral makes clear.

We cannot all dedicate our Wednesdays to restful prayer, any more than Fr James can do during most of his working life, but let us try to find a desert moment to be restful and open to prayer, even if it’s sitting on the bus home, or a quiet cup of tea before going to get the children from school.

Happy Lent!

tea42

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9 December: Greater than all our troubles.

whitby ps 93.4

The Lord on high is mightier than the noise of many waters, yea, than the mighty waves of the sea. 

Ps 93.4 KJV

This sign is fixed to the lighthouse at the mouth of Whitby harbour, below the clifftop where Saint Hilda had her monastery and sponsored bishops for the Anglo-Saxon Kingdom of Northumbria.

It’s the sort of place where people, overwhelmed by their troubles, go to end their lives; hence the message:

God is greater than all of our troubles.

It doesn’t always feel that way, and with an outreached hand, a smile, a word in season, we might, all unawares, help  someone to carry on a little longer. Even a notice like this one may touch a troubled soul, though it must have taken great trust for Whitby fishermen’s wives to believe it, on nights when their men were lost on a stormy sea.

judas

Is the suicide lost? The stonemasons of Strasbourg did not think so, for they showed the Risen Lamb of God untying the hanged Judas to bring him back from the mouth of Hell.

If our journey is delayed by a suicide or a fatal accident, let us forgive those whose actions cause us inconvenience, let us not complain at the delay, but rather let us pray for the victim, for those innocently caught up in the incident, and the families and friends of all concerned.

This reflection comes after another railway trespasser’s death led to a callous response from a delayed passenger.

samaritans.ticket nov2017

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June 18: Jesus meets a Woman and a Dog

upperroom tomdog

After our pilgrims’ canter through the book of Tobit, ending with Tobias and Sarah and the dog living happily ever after, here is a story about Jesus, a woman and a dog. I like to think, along with the master masons of Strasbourg Cathedral, that Jesus and his followers had a dog with them. Here he is a few months later, excluded from Saint Thomas’s moment of truth after thee resurrection.

Jesus was someone who went across the river, through the desert and over the mountains. And then again: over the mountains, through the desert, and across the river. Jesus walked everywhere, and one day he went across the border and came to Tyre.

A Canaanite woman there began shouting,

Have mercy on me, O Lord, thou son of David: my daughter is grieviously troubled by the devil. Who answered her not a word. And his disciples came and besought him, saying: Send her away, for she crieth after us: and he answering, said: I was not sent but to the sheep that are lost of the house of Israel.

But she came and adored him, saying: Lord, help me. Who answering, said: It is not good to take the bread of the children, and to cast it to the dogs. And she said: Yea, Lord; for the pups also eat of the crumbs that fall from the table of their masters.

Then Jesus answering, said to her: O woman, great is thy faith: be it done to thee as thou wilt: and her daughter was cured from that hour.                      Matthew 15:22-27.

REFLECTION

I think Jesus is teasing this woman – we don’t know her name but we can see that she knew about children, she knew about dogs, and she knew about Jesus.

And she will not be ignored!

Jesus does not send her away. He tests her as he teases her; by appealing to her sense of humour, he leads her to express her faith more clearly, running with the metaphor he challenges her with.

Let us ask God for the things we need, and for the things our family and friends need, and for a sense of our own littleness, as we pray:

Our Father.

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February 23. Thomas Traherne XVI: our Saviour’s cross exerciseth all the powers of his soul.

strasbourg.judgement small

Let’s revisit Thomas Traherne, always a challenging read. He accepts the New Testament and revels in its ideas and truths. He interprets the doctrine of the Body of Christ in this passage. ‘Our Saviour’s cross … taketh up his thoughts, and exerciseth all the powers of his soul.’ As it did with the artist of Strasbourg Cathedral, above.

You are His, and you are all; or in all, and with all.

He that is in all, and with all, can never be desolate.

All the joys and all the treasures, all the counsels, and all the perfections; all the angels, and all the saints of God are with him. All the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them are continually in his eye. The patriarchs, prophets, and Apostles are always before Him. The councils and the fathers, the bishops and the doctors minister unto him.

All temples are open before him, the melody of all quires reviveth him, the learning of all universities doth employ him, the riches of all palaces delight him, the joys of Eden ravish him, the revelations of St. John transport him, the creation and the day of Judgment please him, the Hosannas of the church militant and the Hallelujahs, of the Saints Triumphant fill him, the splendour of all coronations entertain him, the joys of Heaven surround him, and our Saviour’s cross, like the Centre of Eternity, is in him; it taketh up his thoughts, and exerciseth all the powers of his soul, with wonder, admiration, joy and thanksgiving.

The Omnipotence of God is his House, and Eternity his habitation.

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28 July: The Beating Heart of Strasbourg

STRASBG.CATH.ENGRAVING.jpg

The Cathedral is a heart

The Cathedral is a heart.

The tower is a bud.

Have you counted the steps

that lead to the platform?

Every night they become more and more numerous.

They grow.

The tower turns turns

and turns about itself.

It turns, it grows,

it dances with its saints

and the saints dance with their hearts.
Will it fly away with the angels,

the tower of Strasbourg Cathedral?

Strasbourg Cathedral is a swallow.

The swallows

believe in the angels amid the clouds.

The swallows don’t believe in ladders

to climb in the air.

They let themselves fall into the air

into the air interwoven

with the blue of infinity.

Strasbourg Cathedral is a swallow.

She lets herself fall into the winged sky

into the air of the angels.

 

I don’t claim to know what the sculptor Jean Arp meant by this poem; it is a poem that he let fly away once written. I did see an interview where he spoke about the saints on Strasbourg Cathedral. ‘We cannot surpass the work of the old masters’, he said of the cathedral dominating his home town. I read it as a love song.

Mediæval Cathedrals are well-loved. One expression of this is the continuing schedules of works to preserve these treasures, Canterbury always has scaffolding somewhere about its sides. We were not tempted to launch into the air from the roof platform at Strasbourg, but to have built the place so high was an act of faith by the architects, a duc in alto, putting out into the depths of space.

We should imitate Our Lord at his temptations in not taking irresponsible risks to impress the devil in us or in other people, but we should also trust him to hold us safe as we fly, ever in danger of falling, ever seeking the infinite blue of heaven.

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13 May: The one who was lost.

judas

Father Daniel Weatherley was saying that today was, he thought, the only time that poor Judas is mentioned twice in the Scripture readings, in Acts 1: 15-26 and John 17:11-19.

Judas is described as the one who chose to be lost; we read elsewhere how he hanged himself. Father Daniel described him as refusing Christ’s – God’s – love and so getting into a dark place. Fair comment, but the sculptor of Strasbourg Cathedral doesn’t expect the Lamb of God to be merely fair. Here he is shown, determinedly untying the former apostle, right at Hell’s mouth.

Even before Jesus descended into Hell, this artist has  him rescuing his friend.

Thank God the Church is more merciful to suicides these days; but we still have much to learn about mercy.

MMB

 

 

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28 October, Shared Table XVII: together around the table.

This post is more explicitly about the Eucharist than some others in this occasional series; but they are all about the Eucharist, which includes every meal shared in love.

I have been reading an article Facing the Lord’s Table by Thomas O’Loughlin1 where he discusses the positions taken up by priest and people in the Catholic Eucharist: either one man on one side of the altar-table and the rest facing across it to him, or in the older tradition, the priest facing the altar but also away from the people.

Neither of these is ideal, he argues. If two of us are eating together, we will usually face each other, the better to communicate; if there are more of us, we will sit around the table. Thus, in the first picture above, you’ll see how we have re-arranged ourselves for the photo, and we returned to our plates a moment later. In the Last Supper from Strasbourg Cathedral, like so many others, artistic licence dictates that those present are facing us – but we Christians share that same table in Strasbourg, in Canterbury, or wherever we may be in the world, so the gathering around the table is symbolically completed by the onlookers’ presence.

Dr O’Loughlin reminds us that at Mass, rather than in front of a carving, we are a community when we gather round a table; that is when we say Grace to bless the food and drink.

Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all share the one loaf.

My brothers and sisters, when you gather to eat, you should all eat together.

1 Corinthians 10:17; 11:33

Dr O’Loughlin also suggests that an accurate translation of the First Eucharistic Prayer would have us standing around the table rather than just standing before God, and that this is borne out by ancient liturgical instructions about how the broken pieces of the loaf were to be set out on the paten for distribution.

He closes with these words: The theological bottom line is this: if the Logos has come to dwell among us (John1:14), then every table of Christians is a place where one could rub up against him at one’s elbow.

Now there’s a thought! Do read and digest the article if you can find the journal.

1In The Furrow, October 2017, p554-560.

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June 22: Shared Table V, A big Miracle.

bread-fish-strasbg

Do I need to add that it was another true story? One of the most spectacular shared meals of all time, that puts into the shade our small miracle recalled in Tuesday’s post – and it happened in the unforgiving Galilean sunshine. 5,000 men, not to mention women and children, all of them fed from  five loaves and two little fish.

John’s account (Chapter 6) tells us that the food was offered by a small boy. So even then, the Lord depended on others to complete his work.

John also tells us that Jesus spoke about himself as real food:

For my flesh is meat indeed: and my blood is drink indeed. He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, abideth in me, and I in him. As the living Father hath sent me, and I live by the Father; so he that eateth me, the same also shall live by me.

Well, they did not get it, those who walked no more with him. But do we get it? Remember  Herbert McCabe:

The doctrine of transubstantiation, as I see it, is that the bread and wine become more radically food and drink.

To the naked eye the Eucharist is nothing like as spectacular as the feeding of the five thousand, at which Jesus floated the idea of his body as food to his followers. But consider how we feel more alive in the company of loved ones, as part of a crowd with a purpose such as cheering on a sports team; breathing the same air, hearing and singing the same chants, sharing conversation. We feel energised.

We can be less than 100% attentive to what is being said and done at Mass, receiving the Sacrament in a daze of fatigue or fret. But our presence, our extended hand, are there not just in the moment, but more radically are on the brink of the eternal moment.

(I doubt the loaves and fish were as big as these carved on Strasbourg Cathedral)

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October 16: He would have smiled

judas

I remember an Anglican priest shaken by a parishioner’s claim never to have suffered, wondering what life this man had lived. R.S. Thomas was an Anglican priest himself of course, and met such men from time to time, perhaps with a wry shake of the head.

The title of this poem, ‘The Fisherman’, evokes images of Peter the Apostle, embarrassing in his stuttering faith. Instead we meet a man who takes a fish or glass of water ‘as though they owed it to him’. How to evangelise such a one?

I could have told of the living water

That springs pure.

He would have smiled then,

Dancing his speckled fly in the shallows,

Not understanding.

Perhaps this man cannot see the depths of other people and cares only for what he can get from them, dancing the lure of his charm, not realising that he does not understand, not seeing how he hurts them. He would always have smiled. That lesson he’d learnt well.

Judas must have had charm, but he could not understand the loving gift of Mary, anointing the feet of Jesus with precious ointment and wiping them with her hair – even though Jesus had raised her dead brother to life! (John 12) After the death of Jesus, Judas saw clearly his petty betrayals – like stealing from the common purse – as well as the one they led up to. He could not cope with this view of himself.

There is a tradition that when he ‘descended into Hell’, Jesus took the opportunity to save Judas, as expressed by this carving at Strasbourg cathedral, where the Lamb of God is untying him from the tree of suicide.

How to evangelise such a one?

MMB

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